EMBL’s future directions will be driven by the goal of understanding life in the context of its environment. While the effects of the environment on living systems have been well studied at the level of individual organisms and populations, many of the underlying molecular processes remain obscure.

We now have the tools and technologies to explore these processes, allowing us to understand life in its natural context from the level of molecules to whole ecosystems. This new understanding will be critically important if we are to tackle societal challenges such as environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, climate change, and threats to human health such as the emergence of new epidemics.

EMBL’s new transversal research themes will enable us to realise this vision of understanding life in context. The transversal research themes will be highly interdisciplinary and will encourage dynamic internal and external collaborations. These themes will enable transformative discoveries by bringing together experts in fields such as ecology, epidemiology, toxicology, zoology, population genetics, engineering, and mathematical theory. There will be strong support for building collaborations within each theme, as well as with the wider scientific community, not only to enable scientific discovery but also to build these themes across the EMBL sites.

The new transversal research themes:


Planetary Biology – aiming to understand how microbes, plants, and animals interact with each other and with their abiotic environments at the molecular level.


Microbial Ecosystems – studying microorganisms in communities and how they interact with their environments, including host organisms. Infection biology will be an important focus.


Human Ecosystems – applying computational and experimental approaches to reveal the impact of the environment on human health and physiology, both at the individual and the population level.


Theory – using modelling, mathematical reasoning, and conceptual approaches to study complex and dynamic biological systems.

EMBL is ideally placed to lead bold new enterprises that will advance our understanding of life. As Europe’s only intergovernmental life sciences research organisation, EMBL is recognised for expertise in studying living systems at multiple scales, for providing biological data and scientific services, for developing innovative technologies, and for training and inspiring future scientists. EMBL will use this expertise to take on the ambitious goal of understanding life in context.

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